Powerhouse Mustangs beat Atascocita in Quarter-Finals, Remain Undefeated

By Allan Jamail

Pasadena, TX. – December 2, 2023 – The #1 State ranked 14-0 North Shore (NS) Mustangs varsity football team, playing at the Pasadena Memorial Stadium on a neutral field, ended the season for the 11-3 Humble ISD Atascocita Eagles. This was the 8th straight time they’ve defeated the Eagles, and second time this season. In the game earlier played in October, NS won 61 to 35. The quarterfinal game is a part of the 2023 UIL Texas Football State Championships Football Conference 6A D1 tournament.

NS is advancing to the semifinals for the sixth consecutive year to play Austin’s West Lake Chaparrals. Both teams are undefeated, 14-0. The winner-go-home game is Saturday, December 9th at 3 pm in Pflugerville, a suburb of Austin in Travis County, Texas — 175 miles from North Shore and a 3-hour trip. This will give the home field advantage to the Chaparrals, but the Eastside Boys have had their backs to the wall before, and overcame to become state champions.

This season is NS Head Coach Willie Gaston’s first playoff run in the state championship contests. He’s not new to the team; he’s been on board for years as the team’s offensive coordinator, and so far he has met the challenge and has kept the Mustangs winning tradition intact.

The ‘Stangs and Eagles annual classic matchup game was everything the local sports world predicted; it was a slugfest down to the wire. The never-die Eagles ran out of time 6 points behind, and the Eastside Boys knew they’d been in one heck-of-a fight. Fans for both teams stayed on their feet cheering their players. It was a close game. (See stats below.)

The Eagles offense started off fast, putting together two touchdown (TD) drives in the first quarter, giving them a 14-0 lead over the defending champion ‘Stangs. Kaleb Bailey, NS quarterback, scampered 12 yds late in the second quarter, and Jonathan Soto’s extra point was blocked by Eagle’s Braylon Conley. The first half ended 14-6.

The Eastside Boys offense, realizing their season might be ending sooner than planned, woke up and rallied to make three TD’s in the third quarter. On one of the three, North Shore blocked the Eagles’ punt, and Dezmon Christian picked up the ball and scored from the 24-yard line as the ‘Stangs took their first lead of the game at 20-14 with 9:11 left in the third quarter.

Their defense, after the first quarter shellacking by the Eagles, came alive too. They shut-out the Eagles in the second and third quarter, making the score 27-14 to begin the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Kaleb Bailey hit Christopher Barnes going across the middle on a 75 yd TD pass play, making the score 34-14. Most thought that was the final nail in the coffin for the Eagles, but it wasn’t.

Atascocita Coach Craig Stump’s team wasn’t knocked out yet; they answered the bell and cranked out two TD drives in the fourth quarter. Trailing 34-28 with 1:57 left in the game, they kicked off to NS. They forced NS to punt on fourth down with 0:47 seconds remaining.

On the punt, an Atascocita player ran into the kicker, the ensuing penalty gave NS a first down. With only one timeout left, the Eagles watched the Eastside Boys get into victory formation and take a knee to runoff the final seconds. As the saying goes, NEVER UNDER ESTIMATE THE HEART OF A CHAMPION.

It was standup thriller from start to finish, and a heartbreaker for the Eagles, who reached the quarterfinals again only to lose to NS again.

Coach Gaston said, “I think we did a good job of weathering the storm. We took their best shot. That’s a talented team. We have played each other so many times that it’s going to come down to who makes more plays. It’s not going to be so much of out-scheming them because we know each other so well. We knew that we had to make a play on both sides of the ball. They got to the regional finals again.”

Atascocita coach Craig Stump said, “We came up a few plays short and didn’t make the plays to win. We had guys playing both offense and defense who really care about Atascocita football.”

NS scorers: Kaleb Bailey ran for 2 TD’s & passed for 2 TD’s; Christopher Barnes 2 TD’s; Dezmon Christian 1 TD. ‘Stangs Kicker Jonathan Soto made 4 extra points, making his yearly total 97 points.

STATS: NS led in all the stats… NS total yds 327 to 295, NS passing 241 to 237, NS rushing 86 to 58. A stat category NS would prefer not to have is their 11 penalties for 115 yards; giving away that many yards eventually will cost even a good team a game.

There are only two remaining Houston area teams in the playoffs: North Shore, and Summer Creek Bulldogs. When the playoffs began, there were 80 Houston area teams competing. The Bulldogs (13-1) will try to add to that total against Cibolo Steele (13-1) in the Class 6A Division II bracket.

Linda Jamail, photographer & statistician.